Posted on: December 14, 2022, 01:09h. 

Last updated on: December 14, 2022, 01:23h.

Baltimore-based Cordish Companies hopes one of its next major development projects comes by way of Virginia in the town of Petersburg.

Cordish Companies Live! casino Virginia gambling Petersburg
A rendering of the $1.4 billion mixed-use development and integrated casino resort being proposed by The Cordish Companies for Petersburg, Va. Officials in the Virginia city are hoping to gain state authorization to move forward with a gaming project to spur regional economic activity. (Image: The Cordish Companies)

The Petersburg City Council Tuesday night revealed Cordish’s pitch for Petersburg. The operator of Live!-branded casinos in Maryland and Pennsylvania says it’s willing to spend $1.4 billion to bring a casino and resort destination to Petersburg, located about 20 miles south of the Richmond capital.

Live! Casino & Hotel Virginia, as the project is being called, would be completed over several development phases. The scheme, if approved by the state and local voters, would occupy about 80 acres of land at Wagner Road off Interstate 95.

The initial phase includes a casino floor spanning 230,000 square feet, a 200-room hotel, more than a dozen restaurants, a resort pool, a fitness center, and a customizable events center.

Zed Smith, chief operating officer for Cordish, said that the casino could be a “catalyst for change” in Petersburg.

[Live! Casino & Hotel Virginia] will transform the city by creating a thriving entertainment and hospitality attraction for the entire region and provide first-class amenities for the local community while generating spin-off economic development, creating thousands of new jobs for area residents and substantial opportunities for local, minority, women-owned, and veteran-owned businesses,” Smith said.

Cordish’s current casino portfolio includes Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland, Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia, and Live! Casino Pittsburgh.

Subsequent Live! Casino & Hotel Virginia expansion phases, which are included in the proposed $1.4 billion overall budget, would increase the property’s footprint to include a total of 500 guest rooms and bring more than 1,300 residential units to the property. Retail shopping and additional entertainment and dining options would be included in the subsequent expansions.

Many Hurdles Remain

The Petersburg City Council Tuesday night voted unanimously in favor of selecting The Cordish Companies as its preferred gaming development partner. But while local officials and the casino company want to build the resort, gambling is currently illegal in Petersburg.

Virginia legalized commercial gambling in 2020, but only in the economically troubled cities of Richmond, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Bristol, and Danville. Each town can only move forward with a casino with the local blessing of their voters through a ballot referendum. All but Richmond held successful referendums authorizing a casino.

Richmond city officials hope to reask their constituents about a casino again in the future. State Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond, Petersburg), whose district encompasses Petersburg and parts of the capital metro, believes the people have spoken and that Richmond’s casino opportunity should be reallocated to nearby Petersburg.

For Petersburg to consider authorizing the Cordish casino plan, state lawmakers would first need to qualify the area as a permissible gaming locale. Petersburg would then need to gain approval from voters.

Questionable Bidding Process

Even if the Virginia General Assembly and Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) were to rework the state’s 2020 gaming bill to qualify Petersburg, legal concerns could be raised regarding Petersburg’s decision to partner with Cordish.

Unlike the four other cities in Virginia that are moving forward with casinos that held competitive bidding rounds for the opportunities in a public, transparent way, Petersburg did its negotiating behind closed doors.

City officials disclosed last night that instead of forming a committee to evaluate proposals from interested casino developers, Petersburg contracted a third party to field the submissions. Lisa Speller, whose Speller Consulting Group has been paid as much as $10K a month by the city for consulting services, says she reviewed a handful of submissions before settling on Cordish.